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AJ Allmendinger Resilient Through Trying Times

Arguably, AJ Allmendinger and his No. 47 Kroger ClickList JTG Daugherty Racing team have persevered through tough times in 2017.  All things considered, the 35-year-old Los Gatos, CA native has been optimistic through the adversities with this year’s on track package and new race format.

Still, Allmendinger does not resort to any excuses.  In fact, he’s as tenacious and determined to right the ship with crew chief Ernie Cope, committed towards building long term success.

Presently, Allmendinger’s focus is finding the right balance with his cars, building on his rapport with teammate Chris Buescher, and a potential playoff spot.  Above all, this is a driver who believes in his team, refusing to yield to the pressures of the ever competitive sport of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Last Friday, I caught up with Allmendinger for what has become a yearly interview about the latest happenings on and off the track.  With Father’s Day weekend on the minds of many at Michigan International Speedway, it’s safe to say that NASCAR’s favorite “cat father” wanted to deliver with a solid result.

Posting a respectable 18th place finish last Sunday, it’s clear that things are heading in the right direction.  Therefore, let’s catch up with Allmendinger with some shop and race talk in this exclusive interview from last Friday at Michigan!

Rob Tiongson :  AJ, it’s been a season in progress for you and the No. 47 team heading into Michigan.  While things are heading in the right direction…

AJ Allmendinger :  Progress?  Is that an easy way of saying how the year’s went?  Progress?  OK, alright, I like that.  I might use that in my quotes for the rest of the year, OK? (laughter)

RT :  Just don’t credit me with that! (laughs) Basically, it’s been a trying year but you’re building on your rapport and chemistry with new crew chief Ernie Cope.  How has it been like to work with him in terms of the collaboration process?

Allmendinger expressed confidence with his No. 47 team's progress through challenging times.

Allmendinger expressed confidence with his No. 47 team’s progress through challenging times.

AA :  I’ve really enjoyed working with Ernie.  The great thing we have about this race team is the group of guys that we’ve assembled.  I feel like we stick together.

I feel like it’s always easy when the season’s going great and everything’s nice.  You’re winning.  Everybody gets along.  When you’ve got the struggles, that’s when you really find out what kind of chemistry that you have with your raceteam.  We stick together.

It’s not from a lack of effort.  Everybody’s worked so hard throughout the course of the year and I think we get along well.  We have a great time.  Obviously, we’d like the results to be better.

With Ernie coming on board as my crew chief and our competition director, I’ve really enjoyed it.  We work real together, we love to golf together, and we have similar interests.  He’s a great leader.  During practices, we always have a plan.  We learn a lot.  During the race, we maximize what we can do.  It makes it a lot of fun.  He’s got a strong voice so he’s always giving me the info that I need.  I think that the weekends, maybe the results haven’t shown up, but they’ve went smooth.

We’ve tried a lot of different things and we’re learning a lot constantly.  That’s all you can do.  When you’re struggling, that’s all you can do – go out there and keep trying things.  The toughest thing about us is when it comes to resources, wind tunnel wise and stuff like that, we don’t have that.

A lot of these race weekends, especially with this package, we’re learning on the fly and trying new things.  That’s all you can do to get better.

RT :  This season, JTG Daugherty Racing became a two-car tandem with teammate Chris Buescher.  Would you say that having the No. 37 team has enhanced the team dynamics compared to previous years as a single car effort?

It takes two to make a thing go right, according to Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.

It takes two to make a thing go right, according to Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock.

AA :  I think this year’s probably been an interesting year to have a new teammate just in the mere fact that with this package, compared to any other year that they’ve tried to change it, I feel like the significance of how different it is compared to years’ past is a lot bigger gap than it’s been.

Having another car has helped that.  Chris and I get along well.  Obviously, he’s got a lot of talent when it comes to winning the Xfinity championship and races.  We can bounce ideas off each other and the teams can do the same thing.  It’s been good having him.

People kind of ask me, “Do I think our struggles are because of having a second car?”  I don’t think so.  We still have brand new racecars.  We have all the things that we need to go out there and keep getting better.  It’s been fun to have them.  I’ve learned a lot just by talking to him and where his strengths are and some of the stuff that I can continually work on.

It’s a fun group.  I guess the good thing is for the most part, we kind of run together every weekend! (laughs) We’re trying to maximize the speed that we have in the racecars.  It’s been good and having him here, trying to get better as an organization, we’ll get better quicker because of that.

RT :  As we’re nearing the halfway point into this season, what’s your overall assessment of the race and points format?  Putting your NASCAR RaceHub thinking cap on, give me your take if we’ll see more than 16 race winners before the end of the regular season.

AA :  Whew, I think you will.  I really do.  Where are we at?  I guess we’re at 11, 10 if you don’t count Joey (Logano) towards being locked into the playoff field.  I can easily pick out four cars that haven’t won and you expect them to win.  Kevin (Harvick), Denny (Hamlin), Kyle (Busch), and Matt (Kenseth), just three of the four Gibbs cars, and Daniel (Suarez) has been running well so you never know.

You look at somebody like Chase Elliott.  You expect him to win as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Hopefully, we can go to Sonoma and steal one!

There are definite possibilities and I said it on RaceHub a couple of weeks before Ryan (Blaney) won.  I said, “You’re going to have some big names left out of the playoffs just on the mere fact that they haven’t won a race.”

You look at somebody like Joey where his win (at Richmond) doesn’t count.  That’s one you’ll have to add to the list where if he wins, that’s a new winner.  It’s going to be a challenge.  It may take two wins to surely lock yourself in.

I look at our situation and you could say, “Win and you’re in.”   No, I think you might have to win two because we’re not high enough in points.  With the way the stages have worked and our struggles, we’re so far back in points because of the stages and not getting stage points, it’s a big difference.  It’s going to be interesting the way these last 11 or 12 races will play out going into the playoffs.

RT :  Absolutely.  I think it’ll be pretty fun.  Now, I’ve got to ask you a Mr. Tickles question…

AA :  Of course, of course! (chuckles)

RT :  Clearly, your feline buddy loves the spotlight and you and Tara right back.  Does he have any special plans on celebrating Father’s Day with you this weekend?

It's all about Mr. Tickles for AJ and Tara...well, most of the time!

It’s all about Mr. Tickles for AJ and Tara…well, most of the time!

AA :  (laughter)  Tara wasn’t here so I was being cat daddy yesterday carrying him on and off the plane. (laughter) Our special plans?  We’re just trying to have a decent weekend.  (laughs) That’s all we’re trying to do.  That’d be the special plan – just to have a solid weekend for once.

He keeps it interesting.  It’s fun to go back to the bus and watch how crazy he is.  He takes my mind off this a little bit here and there.  We just did a Kleenex video with Mr. Tickles.  We’ve got that.  We’re working on a Friskies/Purina deal.  I told him, “Basically, if I’m going to struggle, he’s got to make the money, so something’s got to happen here.”

RT :  Hopefully you both have good luck!  You’ve got six top-15 results at Michigan in your past 12 starts…

AA :  Do I really? Holy moly, I didn’t know that!  Anyways…

RT :  I’m like Bill Weber – I already looked it up so you don’t have to!

AA :  OK, alright, nice! (chuckles)

RT :  From your vantage point, what are the keys to success at this 2-mile speedway and do you find that you focus on a balance between sheer speed and good fuel mileage?

A previous Cup race winner and an analyst on FS1's NASCAR RaceHub, might Allmendinger add "Sonoma race winner" as his latest accolade?

A previous Cup race winner and an analyst on FS1’s NASCAR RaceHub, will Allmendinger add “Sonoma race winner” as his latest accolade?

AA :  Last year, we ran this package somewhat.  The speeds are so high getting in the corners that you feel so loose getting in the corners.  It’s just trying to have that right balance of not being too loose getting into the corners but still having the car turn through the middle of corners.  You’re so fast and you’re not off the throttle a lot at Michigan.

Because of that, I think that track position becomes critical.  If you can get up front and get cleaner air, your car is just going to feel better.  That’s the bigger thing – having a good qualifying run, making sure that you hit all your pit stops, it’s hard.

Unless you’ve got a dominant car to fall to the back and pick your way back up through the field quick, it’s about having track position all day and making sure pit strategy, that you hit your pit stops, the driver doesn’t make any mistakes…just because the track, over the last couple of years, has widened out so there is more passing going on.

It’s still better to be up front and get that clean air because these cars, in this turbulent air, with no downforce on them, they’re hard to drive.  So, I’ll just try to have a good Friday by qualifying up front and then from there, you just make sure you do your strategy right and make no mistakes.

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to AJ Allmendinger, Jennifer Chapple, and the kind folks at JTG Daugherty Racing for our yearly future about the No. 47 team last weekend at Michigan International Speedway!  In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about AJ and the JTG Daugherty Racing team, “Follow” them on Twitter and “Like” the team’s Facebook page now! 

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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